June 2008

Fri, 27 June
The following morning, it was down to Budmouth Technology College in Weymouth, to participate in the Sixth Form's citizenship day. And what a fun day it turned out to be. In the morning it was the student's turn to be put on the spot. They were divided into groups and given one topic each to prepare a three minute presentation on. They were also told they had to pursue a particular line of argument. Each group did a brilliant job and the students quite clearly enjoyed their various challenges.
Then, after lunch, it was our turn. There were two other guests, a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and a Baptist minister. An aspiring Labour MEP didn't turn up, so she was replaced by a college teacher. The panel was asked a number of probing questions for an hour. It was an interesting debate, with many views being expressed. There's no doubt we all enjoyed ourselves and perhaps politics got a brief and temporary lull from the criticism it normally receives.

Thu, 26 June
What a lovely evening we had with the Whites, who live near Corfe Castle. The mood was buoyant and the evening sun shone. It is so kind of people to open their homes for fundraising dos, and everyone much enjoyed the stunning venue and delicious eats. There was a real feeling that our time has come and that New Labour, Old Labour - whatever it wants to call itself now - is finished. Come the election, and hopefully our victory, I think the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Wed, 25 June
There was something symbolic about all the barriers going up along Whitehall and outside No 10 when we handed in our petition for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty at 4pm. I almost felt the workmen were barricading Gordon Brown and his Chancellor in, rather than keeping terrorists out.
Be that as it may, I was accompanied by Olive Carroll, our deputy chairman, and our agent, Tom Cunningham. Poole's MP Robert Syms was also there, handing in his own petition on the same subject. Over a short period of time we'd gathered nearly 800 signatures from Weymouth, Portland, Swanage, Lulworth, Crossways, Wool and Corfe Castle. The view was virtually unanimous - we want a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as Labour - and I include South Dorset's MP - had promised us in 2005. But that's turned out to be a lie, as all now know, because Labour knows the outcome of such a referendum, and where would Mr Brown go for dinner then?
But we did our duty as the opposition and passed on our prospective constituents' views to the Prime Minister himself. Interestingly, as were knocking on the door of No 10, Chancellor Alistair Darling swept up in his car and walked into No 11. I don't think he'll be making that journey for much longer, do you?

Fri, 20 June
Lulworth Cove is always a beautiful place to spend one's time, so it was with a spring in my step that I drove down there to meet one of the area's most well known fisherman, Joe Miller, early this morning. His family have fished the waters off the Jurassic Coast for generations. But he and all the other fishermen in the South are worried men. With fuel prices and the cost of their equipment spiralling, and fish prices remaining static, they're not optimistic about the long term future.
Add to this a Government which seems not to care about the state of our fishing industry, or its future, and you've got grounds for a lot of ill feeling. And now there's the Marine Bill to worry about. There are many proposals in there which the fishermen oppose. They're concerned that the Bill's been hijacked by environmentalists and bureaucrats, who don't have a clue how local families have fished sustainably for years and years. One way of protecting our waters would be to take control of them again. All boats, especially those from abroad, would fish under licence and that way we could protect our fish stocks and our fishing industry, which was sold out to Europe as part of this ludicrous dream to create a superstate.

Thu, 19 June
It was a glorious sunny evening, as I sped down to Poole Quay on my motorbike, to join the fishermen from Poole and Swanage, who were protesting about rising fuel prices. There was a good turnout, not least from the media! I would say there were about 40 boats of varying sizes, some festooned with banners. But while the boats may have varied, the cause did not. The fishermen want financial help from this Government and a promise to freeze any planned rise on fuel duty. The alternative, they told me, was boats would go out of business, and an integral part of our local community would die.
The fisheries' minister Jonathan Shaw has already told the fishermen they won't get a penny. And on BBC Radio Solent, I and many fishermen I spoke to thought he was pretty dismissive of their problems. The point is it's not just the fuel price which is rising, but the cost of their equipment. And with fish prices remaining static, there's little light at the end of the tunnel.
Poole's MP Robert Syms was there, so too was my colleague Nick King, who will be fighting the Lib Dem, Annette Brook, at the next election. And county councillor Malcolm Shakesby was also present. He'd done a lot to advise the fishermen.
It was a successful evening, in the sense the protest received good coverage and the points were made. Whether this Government will listen is quite another matter. I don't hold out much hope.

Tue, 17 June
A visit to the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is always a pleasure. The day was sunny, but windy. In fact the conditions were absolutely perfect for sailing. The Academy's chief executive, Mark Stubbings, showed me to his office, which has the most stunning view over the harbour. We chatted for some time about sailing, the Olympics and Mark's aim for the place in the years ahead. He is a determined and ambitious man, not for himself, but for the people of Weymouth and Portland, which the Academy serves.
Being such a pleasant day, Mark could not resist a small boat trip around the harbour. We were joined by Guy Lavender, who's the South West England director for the 2012 Games. He's also a former officer in the Parachute Regiment, so the chat quickly turned to military matters and the current situation in Afghanistan, which Guy has experienced for himself.
We were soon aboard Mark's boat and off out into the harbour, where we munched on a delicious crab and avocado bap and put the world to rights, as you do on a boat. I enjoyed our meeting very much. Both men were determined to do their bit for South Dorset and I felt confident that both would achieve their various aims. I made a mental note that perhaps more meetings should be at sea!

Fri, 13 June
I was inspired this morning during a visit to Corfe Castle First School. The reason was the new head Nigel Beckett and his team of teachers. Nigel gave off an aura of 'can-do' and his enthusiasm for his new job was truly infectious. Clearly his staff feel the same and the atmosphere in this cosy village school was electric. The children were all visibly enjoying themselves and quite clearly they are in good hands.
In addition to educating his young charges as best as he and his staff are able, Nigel intends to fight for his school and its future. A review of education provision in Dorset is under way and Nigel's aware that with falling school rolls each school will have to justify its existence. As I said at the start of this diary note, Nigel impressed me enormously and I can only wish him, his staff and the children well for the future. I much look forward to returning for another visit in the future.

Wed, 11 June
Never underestimate a man who can build a working steam engine in his backyard. The model was perfect in every way, and all built by former engineer Brian Parfitt from bits here and there. Brian's had a long and distinguished career in the field of engineering, ending his time at Winfrith, appropriately.
He'd asked to see me as his prospective MP because he wanted to express a few opinions and hear mine on a whole range of issues. After his delightful wife Patricia had made the coffee, we sat in the morning sun and chatted. I listened - alot. Clearly this was a man with a lot of experience and strong convictions. His main concern was education. Who was teaching the next generation of engineers and craftsmen that this country so sorely needs? And more to the point, how were they being taught?
Brian believes - as I do - that apprenticeships are the key for so many of our young people today. His was five years long and it set him up for life. But where has our manufacturing base gone, I ask. We've sold the family silver to foreign nations, who are now selling it back to us, with interest of course. Education is the key and this is where another generation is being betrayed by Labour. Brian has no doubt about that. He wants to return to the days when children were taught to read, write and add up. Oh, how I agree. The wheel does not need re-inventing. And it is there, still, to be grabbed with both hands if only we had the common sense to do it.

Tue, 10 June
I went to see a prospective supporter, let's call him, this morning. His name is unimportant, but he's a farmer. He's got a close family and has worked hard all his life, as has his wife. He described himself as 'middle England', that significant part of the country which Labour has milked to pay for its socialist dreams. This man was angry; angry at just about everything that is currently going on in this country. He points the finger firmly at Labour, but is not convinced that David Cameron has the backbone to tackle the really big issues, as he sees them, should he become Prime Minister.
I found myself disagreeing with little the farmer said, although I do have confidence in our leader. But what saddened me most, I suppose, is that the farmer's views are repeated across the constituency and I suspect the country. There is a suppressed anger, which is beginning to bubble over now that Labour has lost the plot. And like a pack of hyenas, 'middle England' is now preparing to tear the Labour carcass to pieces. I can only say to this farmer, come and join us because we feel like you. I and millions of others want their country back, and we shall achieve that aim at the next general election. Don't lose heart.

Sun, 8 June
What a fabulous evening Andrew and Gay Corran laid on for us all. And we could not have had such a scenic and stunning venue had we tried. The evening sun shone, the wine flowed and some very talented musicians entertained us before dinner was served. The view from the Corran's garden across to Portland and Weymouth was breathtaking and served as a most exquisite backdrop to a wonderful evening. It is very kind of people to open their homes on occasions like this and that kindness was appreciated by all who were lucky enough to attend.

Fri, 6 June
What a fascinating talk by the adventurer John Blashford-Snell. The Colonel was addressing volunteers at the mental health charity Cherry Tree Nursery in Bournemouth. He'd come kindly at my invitation because I am one of the charity's patrons and know John after accompanying him on one of his trips to South America when I was working for the BBC.
The link between the charity and John was South America. The volunteers and others have raised more than £10,000 to help bring fresh and clean drinking water to more than 500 people living in three remote villages in Bolivia. John has extensive knowledge of this part of the world and brought the charity's fundraising to life with his illustrated talk.
The audience of about 40 listened intently to every word, and after the one hour presentation asked many questions. John is a truly remarkable man and is still leading expeditions around the world. He told us he loved the jungle environment as there was so much to see and experience there. He's had a few hairy moments, too. Not least nearly dying in a bus crash on his last trip when a bottle got stuck under the brake pedal as the vehicle lurched down a dangerous single track road with a 500 foot drop on one side. Fortunately the bus crashed into the hillside rather than plummeting over the cliff. The joys of adventure!
I cannot mention the nursery without praising its manager Jessica Davies. What a remarkable lady she is. So much of the success of the charity is down to her. She won't like me for saying this because 'humble' is her second name. Nevertheless, it needs saying and when you meet people like Jess, you want to tell the whole world about them.